We already have a story of success to report, although we are still at the very beginning of our existence. Geofrey shares his background, stories about his life, how he met Manuel and the hope for a promising future.
Geofrey Gonahasa tells his story…
It has always been hard for people to believe my story because everything sounds like a movie, but this is the reality. Whoever reads this story should believe it because this is my true experience. I’m going to specifically focus on my education although there are other interesting things to know about me.
Let me start from the beginning…
I was born in a family of 10 with seven siblings. I am the 5th born from the Eastern part of Uganda. I grew up at my sister’s place because the workload for my mother was too much. It was from my sister’s place that I joined a government-aided primary school where I completed Primary three (P3). After completing P3, my father collected me from my sister’s place and returned home with me. He then registered me in another Universal Primary school where I continued in P4 class. At the end of the year, I got promoted to P5 class.
From P1 up to P5 in the two government-aided schools, breakfast and lunch were unheard of in my life. Class work was always hard for me and I didn’t know why. I dozed off a lot during class time and I didn’t know why. Maybe it was because I was so hungry and, therefore, exhausted. During the season for mangoes, life was a little better because we could always go for mangoes during lunch time and on our way home after classes.
About my very first supporter
Luck came my way when my uncle requested to have me in his private school and told me I was going to be in the boarding section. I was very excited, but I became disappointed when he demoted me to P3 again. Afterwards though I realised he was very right in his decision; I needed to be back in P3. Another disappointment was when my father took me to start my schooling but without a mattress; however, he had never been in a boarding school so didn’t know any better.
He ended up getting an old and small mattress from my eldest brother for me to use at school. At first I was fine with it because I thought everyone else had the same as me, but I was extremely embarrassed when I found the rest of the pupils with better mattresses.
Joining the boarding school changed my life a great deal. I faced several challenges but I was tuned into thinking that I would be someone important in future. However, so many things de-motivated me and I was almost overwhelmed with an inferiority complex. Among the boarding pupils, I was the only one without shoes for 2 years, and I lacked a school uniform. A lack of uniform and shoes made me look very dishevelled and disorganised. In fact, I hated myself because I kept thinking “why me?”, but there was never an answer as to why.
Our latrines were littered with “ puupu and suusu” and I helplessly stepped in barefoot each time I had to use them. Every morning I had to clean the disgustingly dirty bathrooms, trenches and pick rubbish as a punishment for being so dishevelled until the administration got used to me as the one without shoes and a uniform. This really traumatized me and I lost my self-esteem. What worsened it all was that I was the only pupil who couldn’t pronounce any English words, which increased my shyness and shame at speaking English. As a result, I ended up being one of the quietest pupils, not because that was my nature but because I didn’t know. In a twist, the school ended up awarding me for being the most disciplined pupil.
Surely God showered me with blessings in all my former schools; I had never ever appeared in the best 20s, but in this great school I began from the 3rd position in my first term and emerged the best at the end of the year in the 3rd term. From my 3rd term, I maintained the best position up to P7 and then become the best in the three districts: Kaliro, Kamuli and Iganga district in the Primary Leaving Examination of that year and for my first time, I appeared in the newspapers.
I felt so happy but my self esteem went back to zero when I started thinking about how my high school would be. There seemed to be no possibility of joining high school. My grades were excellent, but my family could not raise any money for my tuition. All these thoughts depressed me and people again mistook me to be a very quiet person. I always wished my father was rich, but they never came true, so I just gave up and left everything for God.
Lucky enough for me, my family owned one bull which was sold to contribute to my education. My primary school contributed another portion as well as a mattress and a blanket for being in the top best 10 pupils. This contribution helped me a great deal. I had no idea where the fees for the following term and subsequent years would come from which always wore on me.
Many things didn’t matter to me a lot, but my biggest worries were school fees and what clothes I would have, so I got in the habit of waiting on the last day of the term to pick up what the rich students had left behind in the dormitory.
How I got the fees to sustain me for the first four years in my high school was through hard work. On the first day in my high school, I was told that there was always a scholarship for the best performers in every class per term and that the second best would get half a scholarship. I told myself that the only way to remain at school is through hard work and being number one every term in class, and by the grace of God, I made it in my first term.
Everyone admired me, but I still saw everyone as being luckier than me because they did not have to work under the same pressure. I was a very good soccer player and I loved watching premiership but because of the academic pressure, I sacrificed my talent to focus on school.
I constantly faced insults from other students who came from rich families. There was a time when I bought an egg and I went to the dormitory with it and almost all my housemates came to watch me and one asked the others, “What is happening? Are they supplying free things at the canteen? Even Gona is carrying an egg”. This statement hurt me so much.
However, in my S3, I made friends with a man from the Western part of Uganda who really cared for me. That friend became like a brother. He ended up introducing me to his family and his father was a bishop. They accepted me and considered me to be a family friend and started helping me with school requirements and upkeep. I truly felt loved.
In my 3rd term of S2, I was out-competed by another student and I took position 2, and so I only qualified for half the scholarship. My entire family was worried because there was no way to get the money; however, the bishop paid for me and provided me with upkeep as well. It was amazing because these were people I wasn’t related to at all, and the bishop continued to help me even in my A level (advanced level) S5—S6. Their support really revived my hopes. After my S6 I had a one year vacation which I chose to spend at the bishop’s place to help him in his business as a sign of appreciation for what he had done for me.
Working at Ibonde Children’s Home
The bishop was running an orphanage project where I was put to care for children. I really enjoyed staying with the orphans because we shared many of the same problems. However, I soon started to feel at odds with the bishop because I came to find out that he was scamming volunteers from Europe who were doing several activities for the orphanage such as sponsoring some of the kids and doing construction jobs on the premises.
A number of volunteers were so close to me and the bishop become suspicious that I was revealing some of his hidden secrets to them. This scared me so much because I could see my possibility of joining university or a medical school for clinical medicine reduced to zero. One day one volunteer was helping me get a place in medical school, and the bishop came and blasted me before my beloved kids, threatening to throw me out of the orphanage if I continued to be close to the volunteer.
Unfortunately for the bishop, one of my closest volunteers was just behind the house and heard everything. He told me he was not happy with the way the bishop embarrassed me and promised to do what he could to help me join a university. This sounded exciting for me but I had so many things to think about – what if the volunteer changed his mind, would the bishop accept me back? I was thinking never to blame anyone for the bad experiences I have faced because it’s only God who knows why things like this happen.
Then I met Manuel
When the volunteer from Austria proposed to take me to school, the coordinator of an NGO in Uganda also showed interest in supporting me. He promised help with rent and upkeep which he faithfully did for the whole of my first year at university. Unfortunately, he abruptly withdrew his support for very unclear reasons and I lost his added support. All the same, I can’t forget his generous contributions for that one year.
In this stressful event, my Austrian friend was there to encourage, me and he promised to do what he could to see me complete my university. It is also worth mentioning that an American lady also helped support me and contributed a number of times. At this time, the bishop also completely excluded me from his family and denied me support because he also alleged that I was collaborating with his enemies. It was a stressful time.
Despite all these catastrophic events, some close friends didn’t give up on me. My Austrian friend and his family have played the greatest role in my education. I must also mention my two Eritrean classmates who have become amazing friends.
I am now in my 3rd year and I strongly believe that I will complete my schooling. My dream in life is to complete my studies, work hard and be in position to help other needy children in Uganda with education but in a more friendly and lovely environment than I was afforded. The love people have extended to me has inspired me to give back and work for people in a similar situation like me.
To achieve this, we are forming an organization “Tugende Together” with the help and guidance of my Austrian friend. The target of this organization is the less privileged children and youths realize their dreams and live meaningful lives too. Please, I request whoever is willing and able to help, join us and make a difference in one Ugandan child’s life and you will never be forgotten.
I would like to once again give my appreciation to whoever has contributed in my education. God bless you all.